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A number of years ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who works in market research and he turned to me and asked, “This may be a stupid question, but why do people attend conferences?”

It made me pause to think for a moment. As a conference organizer, this is the ultimate question. When I first entered the “conference realm”, I was oblivious and ignorant to the main answer(s) to this question. That being said, I am a believer that there isn’t a definitive answer which applies to everyone 10 years later. As a junior conference organizer, I was not directly   taught the fundamental reasons as to why people attend industry events. I learnt this over time, having witnessed the social and educational benefits which conferences bring to attendees, speakers and sponsors alike. Again, no two events are the same, and one mustn’t confuse a conference with a trade show or other event types. Participant agendas can be completely different in this respect.

This post is to share my personal top 5 reasons as to why people attend conferences, and how conferences can benefit attendees in the modern age we live in, especially given how much free information is readily available to us, and how important our time is. At Curtis & Coulter, we want to continuously ask our participants this question in order to help us understand the changing needs of our customers.

So what are the main reasons people attend conferences?

1. To network
A big reason for going to conferences is to meet with likeminded people and industry peers. Conferences bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a common discipline or field, and they are a great way to meet new people in your field. At a conference you will be able to get together with people from a wide range of backgrounds, of whom you may not encounter at your home workplace or institution. As you build your professional network, conferences can become a good place for meeting with people in your field that you haven’t connected in a while.

2. To expand your knowledge and find solutions to problems
You will hear a lot about things in your field that will be new to you. These could be new techniques, new types of equipment, unpublished data, or learn from thought-leaders that you may not have previously heard of. You will get to keep onto of the research of some of the biggest names in your field, in addition to some of the newest faces in it. Conferences give you the opportunity to talk to these people one-on-one about what they are working on, and they may even give you advice on how to enhance your own work. You have the opportunity to ask presenters questions about their work and the rationale behind it, which you can’t do when reading journal articles.

3. To present your ideas and work to others
This is one of the more obvious reasons for attending conferences: to present your work. It’s good practice in talking about what you do with a variety of people from similar, related and/or completely different areas of study. Presenting will make you more confident about the work that you do, and gives you new perspective about your work as people may ask questions that make you think about your project differently. At a conference you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from people who have never seen it before and may provide new insight.

4. For people to meet you
It may not seem like a notable thing, but conferences are also a good way for people to meet you. Regardless if you are the CEO of a multinational company or a second year grad student, or even presenting for the first time, you may meet someone at a meal, in the exhibit hall or wherever and within a few minutes, you can make a connection with someone that could dramatically impact your professional career. This is especially important when you are looking for collaborators, jobs ideas, or in some fields you may even be looking for committee members. Conferences are another way to get your name and your work out there as you begin to establish yourself in your field of study, especially if fortunate to be invited as a speaker.

5. Learn beyond your field or interest
This is a two-fold benefit of attending conferences, since not only may you learn things outside your field about other areas of research in your discipline, but conference attendance also have many sessions for professional development and career advice. Chances are, when you go to a conference the attendees are united by a single broad topic but they have many different sub-fields of study, and many projects will be multidisciplinary.

And of course, there are other benefits to attending conferences such as finding a new job, recruiting skilled people for a position, getting out of the office for a few days and use the time to visit a new city, gain continuing education credits via attendance etc. 

So why attend conferences? We each have our own reasons for attending but my personal opinion is that conference
attendance dramatically enhances both your professional and personal development, as well as providing you with tools and skills which you cannot be taught in-house or online. The focused nature of learning at a conference allows you to dig deeper with the understanding of your topic of interest.

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